Comment: Laying the foundations for a successful career

From a very young age, building was a keen interest of mine. My dad was a joiner and I always enjoyed helping him, showing a keen curiosity about the world of construction.
People are still surprised when I say Im studying to be a construction site manager, says Cameron. Picture: contributed.People are still surprised when I say Im studying to be a construction site manager, says Cameron. Picture: contributed.
People are still surprised when I say Im studying to be a construction site manager, says Cameron. Picture: contributed.

By the time I left school, the country was right in the middle of the recession, so a career within the built environment didn’t appear to be an option, as there were very few apprenticeship opportunities available at that time.

Instead, my guidance teacher put me in touch with a local authority to carry out an administration apprentice scheme. After completing this course, I gained a permanent position and stayed for eight years. It was an interesting role and I certainly learnt a lot and developed key skills, but I hankered after something else.

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I took some time out to go travelling, and when I came home, I made the decision to pursue a career in construction. I began working for a property maintenance company, carrying out an administration and finance role. After a year, I saw a vacancy for a financial administrator at Kier Construction. Part of the job involved visiting construction sites. I knew I would love that element and I wasn’t wrong.

Last year, I was successful in achieving a further development role at Kier – taking up a graduate apprentice position with the opportunity to study construction and the built environment at Robert Gordon University. Kier, along with other companies, has been heavily involved in designing this course in conjunction with the university and industry requirements, to help tackle the skills shortage in the construction industry and help each cohort to understand what to expect and learn from a career in the built environment.

I’m currently in my first year of the four-year course. At the beginning, I felt like a fish out of water, being so new to site-management and studying again, but both the team at Kier and the university have been really supportive and welcoming. I’m thoroughly enjoying the challenge that comes from learning a completely new skill. Being based on-site really helps to understand the practicalities behind the theory. I attend on-campus days at university whilst completing most of the coursework through distance learning, making studying accessible and flexible.

During the week I’m on site, working at Queen Margaret Academy, a new £25 million modern school in Ayr for up to 800 pupils. I work with the site-management team and we have daily co-ordination meetings with subcontractors and managers to ensure progress remains on track. I also work with the health and safety and environmental teams to monitor the site, carry out assessments and perform safety checks. No two days are ever the same.

People are still surprised when I tell them I’m studying to be a construction site manager. There is still the misconception that a career in construction is for those struggling academically, manual, or isn’t for women.

Personally, I’m really keen to shift these common misconceptions. I’m living and breathing the job every day, and know this is far from the case. The sector offers diverse, aspirational careers, and the graduate programme is a fantastic route for young people to consider – learning and earning has huge perks. Kier has been very supportive in helping me develop my own career ambitions.

I am passionate about highlighting the opportunities available to young people, and recently spoke to pupils at Queen Margaret Academy. Later this month, I am speaking to local college students at a careers fair. I think more needs to be done across the industry to engage with and inform young people about the many, varied routes into the sector, and to ignite their passion on the world of construction too. When I complete my graduate role, I would like to be a site-manager and eventually, move into project-management. I’m so pleased I’ve finally followed my dream to work in such a diverse and rewarding sector.

Alyson Cameron, graduate site manager with Kier Construction Scotland

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